Anger is a common emotion that everyone experiences at some point or another in life. It’s a useful reaction that allows us to express opposition or hostility toward someone or something that you feel has wronged you. Certain situations can trigger different types of anger and leave you experiencing anything from a minor annoyance to sometimes entering a full-blown rage.
Not all anger is unhealthy anger, though. Sometimes, it can actually be healthy anger if it’s not causing destructive behavior, becoming a common or habitual reaction, or damaging relationships.
Some people are more prone to anger due to events from their childhood, their past, or even recent experiences. The root causes of anger include fear, pain, or frustration, although it often stems from mental health conditions, too.
Read on to learn more about what causes anger and how you can work through angry feelings that are interfering with your relationships or quality of life.
6 Common Causes of Anger
Some known reasons for anger can include:
- Stress or stressful situations
- Unfair treatment
- Feeling attacked
- Being disrespected
- An underlying mental health condition
Despite the fact that these are all common causes of anger for many people, there can also be underlying feelings that lead to anger. It’s important to point out that there’s a significant difference between anger and aggression, something else that’s not always understood.
“Anger is a very common emotion that often gets a bad rap. It’s important to note that there is a large difference between anger and aggression. Feelings of anger are often rooted in disappointment, feeling overwhelmed, fear, and feelings of inadequacy that may need to be addressed before the anger can subside.”
Conditions That Can Cause Anger Issues
Understanding exactly what causes anger can be difficult. While specific events may result in you feeling angry, there are also root causes of anger issues that can develop as early as childhood.
A recent study concluded that the prevalence of intense, inappropriate, or poorly-controlled anger in the general population is estimated to be almost 8%. Though everyone experiences anger occasionally, persistent and uncontrolled anger is not as common. Nearly 90% of the people in the study who exhibited uncontrolled anger met the criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder.
The truth is, mental health conditions often contribute to how angry someone gets and might be the underlying causes of anger issues for a lot of people.
Many people, and even some doctors, think of depression solely as feelings of sadness combined with a lack of motivation. Anger is commonly overlooked as a symptom. Even the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which is the diagnostic go-to book for mental health providers, omits anger as a symptom of depression.
The reality is, though, that anger is a common symptom of depression, whether it’s expressed outwardly or hidden.
One study found that the presence of “anger attacks” in people with depression is approximately 30% to 40%.
There are several types of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). They all have varying degrees of unwanted images or thoughts (obsessions) that cause someone to act (compulsions) in effort to stop their intrusive thought patterns. The condition usually consists of symptoms such as:
- Fear of germs, dirt, or contamination
- The need for things to be orderly and symmetrical
- Unwanted thoughts about losing control and harming self or others
However, anger is also commonly prevalent in those living with OCD. In a recent study, half of the subjects with OCD experienced anger attacks.
Alcohol use disorder, also known as AUD, is an umbrella term for alcoholism, alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcohol addiction. As of 2019, over 14.5 million people over the age of 12 in the United States were living with AUD.
Because alcohol is a psychoactive drug, it alters your feelings and mood. For example, intoxicated people may feel more joyful, outgoing, or, yes, angry. The prevalence of anger among people who use tobacco, alcohol, or illegal substances is high.
The connection between alcohol and anger is cyclical. Someone who’s angry might drink heavily to self-medicate, but alcohol abuse can in turn cause irritation, hostility, and sometimes more intense aggression. The cycle can often continue unless treatment is available for alcohol abuse and the underlying reasons for anger.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that causes a lack of focus and, in some people, hyperactivity. Many people aren’t aware that anger and frustration are also huge parts of an ADHD diagnosis.
While the diagnostic criteria for ADHD don’t include anger, it’s a fundamental part of ADHD for many children and adults. ADHD is known to cause difficulty regulating mood — whether that be anger, hyperactivity, excitement, or aggression.
It’s estimated that about 70% of adults report problems with regulating emotions.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes alternating periods of mania and depression — sometimes to severe degrees. Many people with bipolar disorder also experience bipolar rage.
This extreme anger can be very difficult, as it’s unpredictable and unstable. Often, there’s no reason or trigger for what causes anger in people with bipolar disorder, and it can show up without warning.
Two studies from the same research team (2012 and 2014) found that people with bipolar disorder show more episodes of rage and anger than those without the condition.
Oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) is a mental health condition most often diagnosed in children. The most common behavioral symptoms are defiance and hostility toward authority figures, parents, and peers.
Many times, children with ODD have frequent anger and resentment.
Intermittent explosive disorder
Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) has some symptoms that overlap with ODD, but they’re different conditions. Someone with IED will have severe and recurrent outbursts of anger along with:
- Physical aggression towards peers, parents, or authority figures
- Harming animals and property
While intermittent explosive disorder is not as well known as some other mental health conditions, it reportedly affects over 7% of adults in the United States.
Everyone experiences grief at some point in their lives. It’s the emotional suffering in response to the loss of someone or something in your life.
While grief is often marked by feelings of sadness and hopelessness, with certain types of grief — for example, when someone is widowed — the odds of anger are significantly higher.
It doesn’t have to be grief over the loss of a spouse, though, to cause anger. The death of a loved one is often followed by significant changes, like the need to move to a new place, a change in financial status, or a change in social status. It’s common for any of these changes to cause anger. In fact, anger is one of the stages of grief that most people go through.
Working Through the Root of Your Anger
While it can be scary to have a sudden angry outburst, take comfort in knowing that it’s not all that uncommon. What matters more is how to release anger. If it reaches a point where you ask yourself, “Why am I so angry all the time?” then start to consider whether there’s more to your anger.
That said, if your anger is starting to feel like it’s out of control, so much so that at times it turns into displaced anger or uncontrolled anger, it might be time to get help through anger therapy. An anger problem is very treatable, once you recognize what is causing it. If you aren’t sure what to do next, a therapist can help you work through your feelings, history, and current circumstances and give you the tools you need to move forward. They can even teach you anger management techniques.
“Taking the time to understand your anger is critical. While anger often feels fiery hot and like an unsafe emotion, it’s important to sit with it and allow it to exist long enough for it to subside and make room for healing.”
Everyone’s anger is different, and so is the cause. You can get the help you need in understanding and resolving your anger from a qualified, experienced therapist, like those at Talkspace. We’re an online therapy platform that’s helping people just like you learn to deal with and manage their anger before it takes hold of their life.
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